The Grade Cellars
That characteristic earthiness of the upper Napa Valley, in and around the foothills of Mount Saint Helena, is a volcanic, cobble-filled, mineral-rich loam that is an ideal recipe for grape growing. Robert Louis Stevenson described its “common earth” as “a masterpiece of nature” and Robert Parker compared Calistoga’s “earthiness” to the Saint-Estèphe region of Bordeaux.
And we were lucky enough to discover Calistoga for ourselves – we being Tom Thornton and Brenda Mixson. We met on a blind date and immediately discovered that we shared a passion for food, fun and wine, a spontaneous outlook on life and its opportunities and an ethic for hard work. The real estate we picked up along the way is testimony to all those tendencies! Yet, it was still a surprise to friends and family when we decided to make the move from New York City environs and take on the stewardship of a piece of that Calistoga earth…
We visited Napa Valley in the mid-nineties while on business from the East Coast and decided it had promise as a wonderful retirement milieu - someday. Fast forwarding a couple of years to 1997, and we had taken the leap, purchased our 32-acre ranch outside Calistoga, to be named Winfield Vineyard (Winfield is Tom’s middle name) and traded the intense experiences of the East Coast lifestyle for life in Napa Valley. We weren’t retiring, but entering the wine industry on top of everything else we were doing. Talk about jumping off the cliff! Tom is an architect, still practicing and passionate about his work, and Brenda has made a career in the investment world. Today’s technology lets us maintain our Type-A personalities. We haven’t looked back.
In 2000 we replanted the vineyard into five distinctive Cabernet blocks and began selling our fruit to some of Napa’s finest wineries. This was our initial goal – to grow the highest quality fruit our little piece of Napa Valley could produce.
In 2004 we undertook our next life-changing endeavor – we made our inaugural vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon wine – THE GRADE. That officially marked our return to intensity. We found that name for our wine and winery in the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson who visited Napa Valley in the late 19th Century and honeymooned on Mount Saint Helena above our vineyard. His travels up and down the Old Toll Road (“the grade”) were a thread throughout the book “The Silverado Squatters.” We also took this reference to his route as our name because “making the grade” is a metaphor for achievement in life - to be the best that one can be.
In 2008 we made our first vintage of SEA-FOG Sauvignon Blanc. The fanciful name was taken from a chapter title in Stevenson’s book. The year 2008 conjures up a lot of shared memories for us all, but it also is the same year we held our first release event of THE GRADE with some of our friends and colleagues at a special event at P.J. Clarke’s in New York.
The years have flown by, and with Stevenson as our muse, (Tom is now on the Board of the Stevenson Museum in St. Helena), we have continued our pursuit of our goal to produce the best fruit possible from Winfield Vineyard. The vineyard has reached a level of maturity that produces wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon fruit, cultivated by hand and watched over by the viticulturalist, vineyard manager, and ourselves. Mother Nature also sits at our table and, as our silent partner, keeps us on our toes as we meet her challenges in each growing season. Winfield Vineyard is the genesis of our vineyard-driven wines.
This year, we opened a cozy Arts & Crafts Style office in Calistoga where we run the business and share wine with friends. We also enjoy alfrescoexperiences together overlooking our reservoir at our 1971 vintage Airstream trailer in the vineyard. No matter what the venue, we feel fulfilled to be in the Napa Valley and to have the opportunity to share the beauty and bounty of Napa Valley through the handcrafted wines we put in our bottles!